As we prepare to celebrate 25 years of democracy the Western Cape remains divided along racial, cultural and class lines. Unlike the rest of democratic South Africa, where provincial governments have introduced integrated social cohesion policies across all service delivery programmes, the Western Cape under the DA-led government did the exact opposite. They failed to put in place programmes to address the historical legacy of apartheid racial, spatial, social, psychological, economic, environmental, gender, cultural and class engineering.
Even the DA Mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba renowned for his populist and xenophobic rhetoric and actions acknowledges this problem. On Friday 8 February 2019 the Mayor tweeted: “I have just spent my second night in Cape Town… I am embarrassed to be in the same city in South Africa run by the DA, Like I am in another country as compared to all other cities throughout South Africa.” It is alleged that he went on to say that he doesn’t know how Black MPs are able to stay in the City of Cape Town on a regular basis. The often mentioned 18th century quote attributed to Joseph Addison , “Even a broken clock is right twice in a day’’ comes to mind, as the Mayor’s message resonates with the African and Coloured masses.
How did the Western Cape reach this point ? The DA’s human settlements programme which includes state aided gentrification and there economic development, safety and transport programmes have all been geared towards benefiting the historically advantaged White communities only. It seems the DA under Zille have infused the protection of White privilege as a key ideological policy objective of their liberalism.
Some of the consequences of this liberal policy confusion is that for most African and Coloured middle class professionals who live and/or visit this province, it is an extremely uninviting experience. There are hardly any integrated public spaces and places for entertainment. Whether one is shopping at Canal Walk or Cavendish Square or dining out in Camps Bay the majority of patrons remain White whilst the salespeople, cleaners, waiters and kitchen staff are overwhelmingly African and Coloured. It is even harder to find integrated entertainment spaces after dark. Contrast this with the rest of the country where most entertainment spaces are non-racial and integrated.
A stroll on the Atlantic sea board promenade during the week indicates that it remains a White space for the mainly white local joggers and those locals walking their dogs. Contrast this with most other coastal cities who have transformed their beach areas into 24 hour social cohesion spaces for all their citizens and tourists across the racial, cultural and class divides. It is a common sight to see thousands of couples rich and poor walking along the promenade from sunset to sunrise. From Mumbai to Miami, from Durban to Dakar and Dublin, from Havana to Honolulu, these cities have been able to achieve this cohesion through integrated spatial, economic, safety and transport planning to ensure that everyone has access to the beach promenades 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In Cape Town though, the DA has supported the locals along the Atlantic sea board to ensure that this space remains for their almost exclusive use by blocking any such integrated development. This includes the initial opposition to building the Cape Town Stadium in 2008 and stopping the development of the Sea Point Pavilion. In addition preventing the development of affordable housing through the abuse of heritage and environmental legislation by declaring unused land areas green spaces and heritage sites and the use of private security to illegally remove visitors from the beaches after dark. There are also numerous incidents of estate agents refusing to rent out apartments to young African and Coloured professionals on the Atlantic sea board and surrounds. When these professionals enquired about apartments to rent, they were told that it was no longer available. When White colleagues enquired on their behalf for these same properties they miraculously became available again .
The workspace is no different with the Western Cape performing the worst in respect of employment equity for the past decade. Today approximately 66% of senior management (public and private sector combined) in this province still remains White. No wonder qualified black professionals are not coming to the Western Cape and the few that do don’t last long. The well publicised story of Ms. Ngwenya a young black chartered accountant who worked in the Western Cape and left also encapsulates the black professionals experience . In her letter published in the media she explained her reasons:
“I wish I could tell you that my decision to move back to Johannesburg was solely career-driven. But the truth is, it was a deep and tragic sense of loneliness … Wherever I was, I was the only African (read: black) person. I was the only African in my investment team, I was the only African in any given coffee shop, in any given wine far… How do you expect black professionals to stay, when you continue to create an environment that is not conducive to their success?”
Moreover , the number of reported racial incidents in the Western Cape has drastically increased over the past decade in the schools, on the sports fields, in tertiary institutions, workplaces and service industries. Yet these statistics are not surprising when the Helen Zille has institutionalised this thinking and practice by referring to Africans as refugees and defends the legacy of colonialism as well as having increased the number of White people in the management of the provincial government. If the Premier seems to think it is fine to make racist comments, disregard transformation in the workplace and refuse to implement social cohesion programmes to heal our divided past, how can we expect any different from the constituencies who support her?
Mayor Mashaba, as one of the DA’s own exposed the underbelly of racial denialism and the consequences of Zille’s racist service delivery legacy in the Western Cape. His tweet captured the true essence of the impact of a decade of DA governance in their so called crown jewel province. No doubt the white liberal cabal are cringing and are probably already plotting his downfall. For them the maverick mayor may have finally crossed the line one too many times. Mashaba will soon learn the hard lesson that unlike his White counterparts in the DA, such as Zille, who has also on numerous occasions brought her party into disrepute due to her numerous off the cuff racist remarks, he because he is Black is not untouchable. This was the fate suffered by many Coloured and African DA leaders before him that dared to question the DA’s racist policies. He will soon join the ranks of his former peers Patricia De Lille, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Lennit Max and numerous others who were forced out after they dared to speak the uncomfortable truths to power regarding racism in the DA.
Zahir Amien an independent political commentator. He is formerly from the Western Cape and has been residing in Gauteng since 2011.